Reuters has found.
than 700 Sunni men and boys are still missing more than two months
after the Islamic State stronghold fell. The abuses occurred despite
U.S. efforts to restrict the militias' role in the operation, including
threatening to withdraw American air support, according to U.S. and
The U.S. efforts
had little effect. Shi’ite militias did not pull back from Falluja,
participated in looting there and now vow to defy any American effort to
limit their role in coming operations against Islamic State.
told, militia fighters killed at least 66 Sunni males and abused at
least 1,500 others fleeing the Falluja area, according to interviews
with more than 20 survivors, tribal leaders, Iraqi politicians and
They said men
were shot, beaten with rubber hoses and in several cases beheaded. Their
accounts were supported by a Reuters review of an investigation by
local Iraqi authorities and video testimony and photographs of survivors
taken immediately after their release.
battle against Islamic State is the latest chapter in the conflict
between Iraq's Shi’ite majority and Sunni minority, which was unleashed
by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
inability to restrain the sectarian violence is now a central concern
for Obama administration officials as they move ahead with plans to help
Iraqi forces retake the much larger city of Mosul, Islamic State’s
Iraqi capital. Preliminary operations to clear areas outside the
strategic city have been under way for months. Sunni leaders in Iraq and
Western diplomats fear the Shi’ite militias might commit worse excesses
in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. Islamic State, the Sunni
extremist group, seized the majority-Sunni city in June 2014.
Brett McGurk, the special U.S. envoy for the
American-led campaign against Islamic State, expressed concern to
reporters at a June 10th White House briefing for reporters about what
he called “reports of isolated atrocities” against fleeing Sunnis.
days before the briefing, Gov. Sohaib al-Rawi of Anbar Province
informed the U.S. ambassador that hundreds of people detained by Shi’ite
militias had gone missing around Falluja, the governor told Reuters. By
the time of the White House briefing, Iraqi officials, human rights
investigators and the United Nations had collected evidence of scores of
executions, the torture of hundreds of men and teenagers, and the
disappearance of more than 700 others.
three weeks later, on June 28, McGurk struck a measured tone during
testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said reports of
abuses had been received in the early days of the operation, “many of
which have turned out not to be credible but some of which appear to be
Iraqi government officials also challenged
the reports of widespread violence against civilians. In an interview,
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi’s deputy national security adviser,
Safa al-Sheikh, said there were a few incidents, but added: “There are a
lot of exaggerations, and some of the reports didn’t have any basis.”
main Shi’ite militias, trained and armed by Tehran, emerged during the
2003-2011 U.S. occupation and have grown in power and stature. After
helping the government defend Baghdad when Islamic State seized Mosul in
2014, the militias became arms of the Iraqi government. Islamic State
has slaughtered thousands of Iraqis, of all faiths.
now are more than 30 Shi’ite militias whose members receive government
salaries. The major groups have government posts and parliament seats.
might has also been enhanced by some of the more than $20 billion in
military hardware the United States has sold or given to Iraq since
2005. Their weaponry includes armored personnel carriers, trucks,
Humvees, artillery and even tanks, according to U.S. officials,
independent experts and pictures and videos militia members have posted
on the internet.
Shi’ite militias are known as the Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization
Forces (PMF). The militias officially answer to Abadi. In reality, the
main groups answer only to themselves, display their own flags and
emblems, and are advised by the Quds Force - Iran’s elite foreign
paramilitary and intelligence service.